It is a grim problem. A church has only so many burial spaces on its grounds. What is to be done if the demand for burial spaces exceeds capacity? Over the centuries, macabre solutions emerged, and a few of them appear in this week’s Halloween post.
The Sedlec Ossuary is located in the Czech Republic. According to the Sedlec Ossuary website, it “is artistically decorated by more than 40,000 human skeletons.”
How did the Sedlec Ossuary end up being decorated this way? It is a tale that began way back in 1278. After an abbot of the Sedlec Cistercian Monastery returned from Jerusalem with a jar of earth from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Sedlec cemetery became a popular place to be buried. People wanted their remains to mingle with the “‘Holy Soil’” that the abbot spread over the cemetery. The cemetery filled up quickly, especially after the Black Plague swept through Europe, and expansion of the cemetery became a necessity. A Gothic church was built near the cemetery in the 15th century, and the basement of the church served as an ossuary (a place to store the bones of dead people) for several centuries.
Over the years, two decorators were assigned to the task of arranging the bones in the Sedlec Ossuary. The Sedlec website notes that this task was initially given to a “half blind monk who arranged the bones.” Three hundred years later in 1870, a local woodcarver named Frantisek Rindt picked up where the monk left off and took bone arranging in a whole new artistic direction. His work is what people see today when they visit the Sedlec Ossuary, which is also called the Church of Bones or the Bone Church.
Sedlec Ossuary Entrance.jpg
Photo by en:User:Polyparadigm, released into public domain. Wikimedia Commons
Skeletal Arrangements, Sedlec Ossuary (6282849715).jpg
Sedlec Ossuary – Interior 9.JPG
Sedlec Ossuary signature.jpg
Photo by en:User:Polyparadigm, released into public domain. Wikimedia Commons
Skull Chapel, Czermna
Located in southwestern Poland, Skull Chapel also has an interior decorated with human bones. Smithsonian reporter Perrin Doniger outlines some impressive statistics about how many bones cover its walls and ceiling and fill its crypt:
The skulls and leg bones of over 3,000 victims of wars and plagues cover the walls and ceiling, and a crypt below, accessible through a trapdoor, houses over 21,000 additional remains. Between 1776 and 1804, the local priest, Vaclav Tomasek, painstakingly gathered, cleaned and carefully arranged skeletons recovered from numerous, shallow mass graves left by the Thirty Years’ War, Silesian Wars and cholera outbreaks.
Doniger further notes that Father Tomasek reserved the altar of Skull Chapel for “the bones of important figures and curiosities, including the skull of the local mayor, skulls with bullet holes, a skull deformed by syphilis and the bones of a supposed giant.” After he died in 1804, Father Tomasek’s skull “was placed on the altar as well.”
Although Skull Chapel is eerie, one can appreciate the amount of effort Father Tomasek put into decorating this church. He had only two assistants to help him with this task. According to Wikipedia, he worked with someone named J. Schmidt as well as a grave digger named J. Langer. In addition, Wikipedia notes that Father Tomasek’s artistic inspiration for Skull Chapel was “the Capuchin cemetery” (also known as the Capuchin Crypt), which we will visit next.
Poland – Czermna – Chapel of Skulls – interior 02.jpg
Poland – Czermna – Chapel of Skulls – altar with skulls 03.jpg
File:Poland – Czermna – Chapel of Skulls – interior 07.jpg
Poland – Czermna – Chapel of Skulls – ceiling.jpg
Poland – Czermna – Chapel of Skulls – cellar with skulls 01.jpg
According to Wikipedia, the Capuchin Crypt is located underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini in Rome, Italy. The Capuchin Crypt is the final resting place for the remains of approximately 3700 people. It is believed that these people were Capuchin friars, but no one knows for sure if all of them were friars. Having a smaller amount of human remains does not mean that the Capuchin Crypt is less eerie than the Sedlec Ossuary and Skull Chapel. In fact, the Capuchin Crypt makes up for its low body count with an orderly but creepy body management system. Wikipedia summarizes this system in its brief description of the construction of the crypt:
When the monks arrived at the church in 1631, moving from the old monastery, they brought 300 cartloads of deceased friars. Fr. Michael of Bergamo oversaw the arrangement of the bones in the burial crypt. The soil in the crypt was brought from Jerusalem, by order of Pope Urban VIII.
As monks died during the lifetime of the crypt, the longest-buried monk was exhumed to make room for the newly deceased who was buried without a coffin, and the newly reclaimed bones were added to the decorative motifs. Bodies typically spent 30 years decomposing in the soil, before being exhumed.
Source: “Capuchin Crypt” – Wikipedia
The bones, which are remains “believed to have been taken from the bodies of friars who had died between 1528 and 1870,” were then nailed, piled together, or hung in one of five rooms within the Capuchin Crypt:
- The Crypt of the Resurrection
- Crypt of the Skulls
- Crypt of the Pelvises
- Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones
- Crypt of the Three Skeletons
There is a sixth room in the Capuchin Crypt called The Mass Chapel, but this room is used to celebrate Mass and does not contain any bones.
Rom, Santa Maria Immacolata a Via Veneto, Krypta der Kapuziner 1.jpg
Rom, Santa Maria Immacolata a Via Veneto, Krypta der Kapuziner 2.jpg
Wikipedia notes that the “Catholic order insists that the display is not meant to be macabre, but a silent reminder of the swift passage of life on Earth and our own mortality.” I have not been to the Capuchin Crypt myself, but I can imagine how unsettling it would probably be to be surrounded by walls of human bones and mummified friars and then read the following placard in the Crypt of the Three Skeletons:
“What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…”
Source: “Capuchin Crypt” – Wikipedia
This week’s post features photos inspired by The Woman in White, who is also known as the White Lady. In folklore and mythology, she is essentially a female ghost. The White Lady is often portrayed as a tragic figure who has lost a lover, and she is also seen as a harbinger of death in some cultures.
The “white ladies” in these photos are not apparitions, but they do have an otherworldly quality that fits in with the Halloween season.
Source: “White Lady (Ghost)” – Wikipedia
Weeki Wachee spring 10079u.jpg
Death plunge-The Awakening.jpg
Constant Puyo – Women in Veils c1900.jpg
Constant Puyo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Amelia Van Buren, Woman draped in veil, ca. 1900.jpg
By Amelia Van Buren [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sad Arcadia Child Under Veil.jpg
Loie Fuller cph.3b32532.jpg
By Falk Studio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
With each passing autumn day there is less daylight, and the world becomes slowly engulfed in shadows. Dark thoughts and fears arise, and some of them are reflected in the eerie photos in this week’s post.
Robin Lakes Moonlight (3871896805).jpg
Moon-Glow Waterfalls ForestWander.JPG
Forêt en Alsace.jpg
Saint-Girons – 20130108 (5).jpg
Cypress swamp in the mist (6893887647).jpg
I wonder which way the wind blows here^ – geograph.org.uk – 634363.jpg
Into the Unknown
Kata salle radios jms.jpg
Père-Lachaise avenue fog.jpg
Cemetery in fog (335717947).jpg
Faded grandeur (4437300307).jpg
Covering the past (4437300599).jpg
Dust covered ridge of Bunkers Hill, Richmond estate YORYM-TA0006.jpg
By Tempest Anderson [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Dust Bowl – Dallas, South Dakota 1936.jpg
By Sloan (?) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Now that October is here, it is time for my second annual series of Halloween-themed posts. This week’s post features some of the dark weirdness of the natural world. Together with beautiful summer wildflowers and autumn leaves, nature creates creepy looking fungi and plants that look like they belong in horror or science fiction movies.
According to Wikipedia, this weird fungus is found in North America and Europe, and it “was recently discovered in Iran (2008) and Korea (2010).” It “forms mutually beneficial relationships with a variety of coniferous trees, growing on the ground singly, scattered, or in fused masses.” The “blood” of this fungus has inspired several colorful common names, including strawberries and cream, bleeding Hydnellum, bleeding tooth fungus, and red-juice tooth. The blood appears only while it is young. When it gets old, it becomes “brown and nondescript.”
Source: “Hydnellum peckii” – Wikipedia
Scharfer Korkstacheling Hydnellum peckii.jpg
Wikipedia describes this fungus as “indigenous to Australia and Tasmania and an introduced species in Europe, North America and Asia.” Its tentacle-like arms have earned it the common name of “Octopus Stinkhorn.” As its common name implies, this fungus literally stinks. In fact, it “smells of putrid flesh” when it reaches maturity.
Source: “Clathrus archeri” – Wikipedia
According to Wikipedia, the common names for this shaggy mushroom include Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Bearded Tooth Mushroom, Hedgehog Mushroom, Satyr’s Beard, Bearded Hedgehog Mushroom, pom pom mushroom, and Bearded Tooth Fungus. It is actually edible, and it is also used for medicinal purposes. It is “native to North America, Europe, and Asia.” Wikipedia further notes that “in the wild, these mushrooms are common during late summer and fall on hardwoods, particularly American Beech.”
Source: “Hericium erinaceus” – Wikipedia
Hericium erinaceum on an old tree in Shave Wood, New Forest – geograph.org.uk – 254892.jpg
Lions Mane (4501233135).jpg
According to Wikipedia, this fungus is “commonly called bamboo fungus, bamboo pith, long net stinkhorn, crinoline stinkhorn or veiled lady.” It is found “in southern Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia, where it grows in woodlands and gardens in rich soil and well-rotted woody material.”
Wikipedia further notes that “the cap is covered with a greenish-brown spore-containing slime, which attracts flies and other insects that eat the spores and disperse them.” Despite the slime, this fungus is actually edible and widely used in Chinese haute cuisine. Because it “also contains various bioactive compounds, and has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties,” it has also been used in Chinese medicine.
Phallus indusiatus from Kerala, India – 20090824.jpg
According to Wikipedia, this fungus is “found in Australia, Guam, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Papua New Guinea, Zaire, and Tobago as well as Hawaii.” It is in the same family as Phallus indusiastus and looks similar to it. However, it is smaller than Phallus indusiastus, and it is more brightly colored. I am not sure if it is edible or used for medicinal purposes.
Source: “Phallus multicolor” – Wikipedia
Also called Devil’s hand-flower, monkey hand-flower, and Mexican hand-flower, this tree is native to Guatemala and southern Mexico. According to Wikipedia, the “Aztecs and others have used solutions containing the tree’s flowers as a remedy for lower abdominal pain and for heart problems.”
Source: “Chiranthodendron” – Wikipedia
Chiranthodendron pentadactylon 4.jpg
Closer look at the “Devil’s hand”.jpg
According to Wikipedia, this cactus is “endemic to the central Pacific coast of Baja California Sur, and is found only on sandy soils, where it forms massive colonies.”
It is commonly called “Creeping Devil” because of its strange growth pattern:
Creeping Devil lies on the ground and grows at one end while the other end slowly dies, with a succession of new roots developing on the underside of the stem. The growth rate is adapted to the moderate, moist marine environment of the Baja peninsula, and can achieve in excess of 60 cm per year, but when transplanted to a hot, arid environment the cacti can grow as little as 60 cm per decade. Over the course of many years, the entire cactus will slowly travel, with stems branching and taking root toward the growing tips, while older stem portions die and disintegrate. This traveling chain of growth gives rise to the name eruca, which means “caterpillar” as well as the common name Creeping Devil.
Stenocereus eruca is considered the “most extreme case of clonal propagation in the cactus family” (Gibson and Nobel, 1986). This means that due to isolation and scarcity of pollinating creatures, the plant is able to clone itself. This is done by pieces detaching from the major shoot as their bases die and rot.
Source: “Stenocereus eruca” – Wikipedia
Stenocereus eruca 1.jpg
Stenocereus eruca, Creeping Devils at Huntington.jpg
Wikipedia describes Corymbia calophylla as “a bloodwood native to Western Australia.” It is commonly known as Marri and Port Gregory Gum. The “blood” of the tree is actually red kino or plant gum that comes out of the tree when incisions are made in its trunk.
Corymbia calophylla kino.jpg
Corymbia terminalis, also known as the Desert Bloodwood, is a tree native to Australia.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, strangler figs include “many species of tropical figs (genus Ficus) named for their pattern of growth upon host trees, which often results in the host’s death.” A strangler fig begins life as an epiphyte that harmlessly grows upon another tree. However, it eventually develops long roots that create a “strangling latticework” that usually kills its host tree. These bizarre lethal trees are found “in tropical forests throughout the world.”
Strangler Fig Ta Prohm Angkor1315.jpg
It definitely feels like autumn here in Sacramento. The late evenings and early mornings are cooler now, and some much-needed rain fell upon the city over the past few days. While I am not thrilled at the prospect of more days of falling temperatures and decreasing daylight, I find consolation in looking at beautiful autumn landscapes and brightly colored autumn leaves.
Autumn-lake-morning-foliage – Virginia – ForestWander.jpg
Lake Vuoksa 1.jpg
Steirapollen, 2010 September.JPG
Barques lac Val Joyeux Chateau-la-Valliere.jpg
The Long Plantation (1) – geograph.org.uk – 1561741.jpg
Park zamkowy w Pszczynie 03promykjck.jpg
Autumn-trees-leaves-foliage-sunset – West Virginia – ForestWander.jpg
Country-road-autumn-mountain-sunset – Virginia – ForestWander.jpg
With autumn literally just a few days away, I want to take one last look at the beauty of summer in this week’s post.
2014-06-24 12 17 46 Wildflowers east of Elko County Route 748 (Charleston-Jarbidge Road) along the border of the Mountain City and Jarbidge ranger districts in Copper Basin, Nevada.JPG
Pontederia cordata 4 PP.jpg
Oxbow Bend outlook in the Grand Teton National Park.jpg
Waterfall Julian Alps Slovena (1).JPG
Burford, Oxfordshire, August 2006 harvest, stubble fields and straw bales 1.jpg
Summer sunset over the Sevastopol bay.jpg
Ehrenberg in Ilmenau.jpg
Goodbye, summer day (5402830641).jpg